Picture: for illustration purposes

Japan combats Overtourism with Undersold Rural Beauty

Published September 21, 2023
9 months ago

Tourism in Japan is at an all-time high and it's creating a nationwide issue called 'overtourism'. In 2019, 32 million people visited Japan, leading to crowded cities and stressed resources at established tourist routes.

The most popular path of travel, known as the Golden Route, stretches from Tokyo through the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe conurbation. While crucial for national revenue, historically, this route has come under strain from hordes of international visitors.

Helping to mitigate the stress of overtourism, tour operators are now capitalising on the nation's less explored areas, like Nagano Prefecture's Kiso Valley. This shift is not only beneficial for overcrowded cities but also provides visitors a unique opportunity to witness an authentic side of Japan.

One of these operators, Paul Christie, CEO of Walk Japan, has led the initiative by conducting tours along Japan’s Nakasendo – a historical trade route not often frequented by visitors. His actions have spread tourists more evenly across the archipelago, reducing the pressure on heavily trafficked areas.

Another tour operator, Oku Japan, following a similar thought process, offers tours 'off the beaten track'. This includes community interactions as a significant part of their itinerary — something they term 'fureai'.

Many of these tour operators believe in the potential of tourism to positively impact rural communities. Largely through the process of 'chiho-sosei' or regional revitalisation. Through direct involvement in farming, education and job creation, companies like Walk Japan aim to reinvigorate local economies.

Michelle Lyons, the founder of Point North, is also making strides toward equitable distribution of tourism benefits. She's working on a marketing campaign to promote all of Japan’s 34 national parks equally. The initiative, involving collectable pins and trading cards, aims to raise the profile of less popular parks, therefore dispersing visitors across wider regions.

Taking cues from these initiatives, Japanese Government is also stepping up. The Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, has announced nationwide countermeasures to address overtourism. The country's tourism industry stands at a turning point, battling the costs of popularity while seeking sustainable, balanced growth through the promotion of undersold destinations.

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